Alphabetical by author’s last name.
★ = highly recommended, though everything here is worth your time.
Books: Theology & Ministry
The Death of Race by Brian Bantum (2016). I’d call this a theological memoir, with excellent theological insights woven into the author’s story of being raised in a mixed-race home. His focus on the importance of bodies when we talk about race along with the intersection of race with gender are especially helpful.
Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter (2008). If I’m honest, I probably only comprehended a quarter of this book, but what I understood has significantly shaped my understanding of Christianity’s complicity in the formation of the social construct we think of as race.
★ Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart by Christena Clevland (2013). The author is a social psychologist and each chapter addresses a different “how” related to social divisions. While Clevland remains hopeful about reconciliation, the book’s particular strength is in showing how entrenched and subtle the sources of our divisions are.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone (2011). In some ways a follow-up to his seminal God of the Oppressed (see below), this book articulates Cone’s vision for a distinctively American theology. In the introduction he writes: “Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a “recrucified” black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slaver and white supremacy.” I think he’s right.
God of the Oppressed by James Cone (1975). A good friend recommended this book many years ago and it was my first encounter with a theology that was consciously African American in its assumptions and concerns. The longer I pastor in an African American neighborhood the more I am convinced that Cone’s approach to theology is as relevant today at it was when he first wrote it.
The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches by Korie Edwards (2008). This book wrecked me as we began planting our multi-ethnic church. Edwards is a sociologist and this book reflects her discouraging research on multiracial congregations. The insight in these pages is invaluable and often incredibly practical. While Edwards comes away from her research skeptical of the multiracial churches’ ability to be truly reconciled, her conclusions illuminate the landmines for those of us committed to this work.
The Meaning of the City by Jaques Ellul (1970). Ellul does a biblical deep dive to articulate a theological vision for cities. What he ends up with is not encouraging and some have written him off for this reason. This book had the opposite effect on me; I found his dire assessment to resonate with our experience in Chicago and I found his biblical rationale for remaining in the city to be incredibly compelling.
★ Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith (2001). A classic which plainly identifies the assumptions inherent to evangelicalism which perpetuate race prejudice and divisions.
Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G.I. Hart (2016). This book is so accessible, written in part as a memoir and partly as a theological exploration of racism. Drew pulls from many different experiences and disciplines to help readers who are newer to conversations about race and racism see more clearly the extent to which we’ve each been impacted. The last chapter provides helpful steps forward.
★ The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Christian Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings (2011). Like Carter (see above), Jennings’ book describes in detail the way heretical theology set the stage for the eventual social construct of race. The book traces this neglected (intentionally forgotten?) history by following the lives of a few different key individuals from around the world.
Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love by Grace Ji-Sun Kim (2015). This book is consciously is directed toward “the liberation of Asian American women, who are doubly bound by the racism and patriarchy of Western society and the cultural expectations of their own culture.” There is much to lament in these pages – particularly for those like me, whose gender and race have made me the beneficiary of systems that have damaged so many others. Yet even with this pain, this book is oriented toward justice and hope.
Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church by Paul Louis Metzger (2007). Metzger is brilliant in showing the ways consumerism has infiltrated much of American Christianity, how this exacerbates divisions, and why the eucharist is the starting point for reconciliation.
★ The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change by Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson (2009). Much of the Christian literature about reconciliation focuses heavily on sociology or on practical tactics. Without ignoring these, McNeil and Richardson raise high the deeply spiritual nature of reconciliation.
Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities Into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil (2016). An immensely practical book informed by years of experience and deep spiritual insight. This is the book I will recommend to congregations and communities who are convinced that reconciliation is the goal but who are unsure of the steps toward that goal.
Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind by Mark Noll (2011). This book is a decades-later follow-up to Noll’s classic, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. This isn’t a book about race or reconciliation, but in one section Noll writes about the “particularity” of the Christian faith and its implications for scholarship. Over the years I’ve returned many times to this section as I’ve dug into the implications for reconciliation of the particularity of Christianity.
The Next Evangelicalism: Releasing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah (2009). Dr. Rah is one of the most persistent prophetic voices toward American Evangelicalism and in this book he is devastatingly precise in his diagnosis of its western captivity. Unlike the pessimists who constantly announce the demise of American Christianity, the author sees much to be hopeful about in immigrant and multi-ethnic expressions of Christianity in this country.
Liberty to the Captives: Our Call to Minister in a Captive World by Raymond Rivera (2012). The book’s strengths are in its grounding in a lifetime of ministry in New York City and the unique articulation of a liberation theology that calls the church to critical and bold engagement with the powers and authorities of our particular location. I regularly recall this book when I engage with the political and power actors in our city.
Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman (1949). We’re told that Martin Luther King Jr. carried a worn copy wherever he went and reading through its plain why this may have been the case. Thurman is phenomenal at articulating the emotional experience of America’s oppressed and he’s equally good at announcing a gospel that is good news to these and a warning to others of us.
Following Jesus Without Dishonoring Your Parents edited by Jeanette Yep (1998). The authors write empathetically about the unique situation of those younger Christians who are children of Asian immigrants.
Books: Memoirs, Essays, etc.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (2010).
Collected Essays by James Baldwin (1998).
The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry (1989). Berry explores his own history with racism as a white man from Kentucky. His insights about the connections between race and place are unique and important.
★ Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss (2009).
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson (2001).
★ Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015).
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois (1903).
A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching by Paula J. Giddings (2009).
Malcolm X by Manning Marable (2011).
Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins (1976).
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (2014).
★ Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (2013).
“A Letter to My Nephew” by James Baldwin in The Progressive (1962). This essay and the two that follow can be found in edited forms in the collection above. These will give you a taste and hopefully compel you dive deep into Baldwin’s nonfiction.
“Letter from a Region of My Mind” by James Baldwin in The New Yorker (1962).
“A Report from Occupied Territory” by James Baldwin in The Nation (1966).
“White Debt” by Eula Biss in The New York Times Magazine (2015).
“11 Ways Race isn’t Real” by Jenée Desmond-Harris in Vox (2014).
“Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning?” by Shaila Dewan in The New York Times (2013). Like so much about race, the word Caucasian has dubious roots about which the author explains.
“Three quarters of whites don’t have any non-white friends” by Christopher Ingraham in The Washington Post (2014).
“America’s Racial Divide, Charted” by Neil Irwin in The New York Times (2014).
“White Christmas, Black Christmas” by Robert P. Jones in The Atlantic (2014).
“The Two Asian Americas” by Karan Mahajan in The New Yorker (2016).
“The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning” by Claudia Rankine in The New York Times (2015).
“Mike Brown’s shooting and Jim Crow lynchings have too much in common. It’s time for America to own up” by Isabella Wilkerson in The Guardian (2014).
★ “Overcoming Racial Faith” by Willie James Jennings in Divinity (2015). If you’re not ready to commit to Jennings’ masterpiece, The Christian Imagination (see above), this article is a great introduction.
“The New Black Theology” by Jonathan Tran in The Christian Century (2012).
“Nonviolence for White People” by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in Red Letter Christians (2013).
Chicago Articles & Books
“Separate, Unequal, and Ignored” by Steve Bogira in Chicago Reader (2011). Bogira is one of the best at showing the devastating impact of segregation in Chicago.
★ “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic (2014). The implications of Coates’ work in this article are vast, but he grounds it in Chicago so those of us who live here will find it especially eye-opening. Coates is especially good at showing the impact of racist policies on individuals and families.
“’We Shall Not Be Moved’: A Hunger Strike, Education, and Housing in Chicago” by Eve L. Ewing in The New Yorker (2015). It’s hard not to think about race when trying to understand the complexities of public education in this city. This article shows how hard communities of color must work to make sure the city fulfills its promises (or at least pretends) to educate of its students fairly.
Making the Second Ghetto by Arnold R. Hirsch (1998). It’s so important to consider housing policy when thinking about race and racism in American. The patterns of segregation that we see in Chicago and the nation are not coincidental and Hirsch is detailed in showing how polices shape and reshape this city in a way that benefits some of its citizens while isolating others.